From KERA News:
Hugh Grant Aynesworth was, as the title of his first book declared, “a witness to history.”
For such an amiable — even soft-spoken — man, Aynesworth had a resumé of news stories and investigations that reads like a chronicle of the past 60 years of American violence and trauma. He personally saw and covered the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the arrest and shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. In 1993, he covered the Branch Davidian siege at Waco. He reported on the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City which killed 168 people.
Over the course of a year, he and a partner interviewed serial killer Ted Bundy in a Florida prison in 1980 while Bundy’s murder convictions were still being appealed.
On November 12 this year, after Aynesworth was admitted to the UT Southwestern emergency room, doctors determined he had suffered a stroke months before. After a week at the hospital and a week in rehab, he returned home on November 25.
Earlier this month, his wife, Paula Aynesworth, decided he needed to enter hospice care.
He died Saturday at home. Aynesworth was 92.
Remembering a storied career
In 2007, Aynesworth summed up his years as a journalist at the 15th Annual Harrison County Student Achievement Banquet in his hometown of Clarksburg, West Virginia.
“I’ve been offered bribes and threatened and maligned and witnessed some of the most horrifying events of our lifetime.”
Aynesworth added, “It’s been a strange life. It’s been so much fun, and I’ve been so very fortunate.”
“Personally, I don’t know that there’s ever been a better reporter to come out of Dallas, really,” said Robert Mong, president of the University of North Texas at Dallas and former editor-in-chief at The Dallas Morning News.
“What strikes me about Hugh was that he could walk the halls of power easily enough, get people to confide in him,” said Jim Schutze, former longtime city columnist for the Times Herald.
Schutze came to Dallas in 1978. He said he’d heard, even before he arrived, that Aynesworth was a reporting legend.
“He had some years on the police beat under his belt, and he could also go talk to a bunch of striking coal miners around a barrel fire. He had a full, 360-degree compass,” Schutze added.
In addition to interviewing Ted Bundy, Aynesworth played a major role in debunking another infamous serial killer. In 1986, he and fellow Dallas Times Herald reporter Jim Henderson exposed convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas as a fraud. Lucas, a drifter in jail for two killings, had convinced Texas Rangers — and other law enforcement officials across the country eager to close long-cold cases — that he had improbably managed to murder more than 100 women.
On tape with Aynesworth, Lucas said the total number of victims, male and female, was “360, minimum.” That later became 600.
Aynesworth and Henderson proved this was physically impossible: Lucas would have had to drive his Ford station wagon 11,000 miles in a single month, while managing to stop repeatedly along the way to kill the occasional victim. On the date of one murder in Houston, Aynesworth and Henderson proved Lucas was in jail in Maryland at the time.
It’s now believed that, at most, Lucas killed three people. He was a fabulist who just liked the attention and the milkshakes that came with telling police what they wanted to hear.
Later that year, Aynesworth and Henderson were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting.
“I have always felt that they should have won the Pulitzer Prize for revealing the hoax of Henry Lee Lucas,” said Mong.
In total, Aynesworth was a Pulitzer finalist four times.
Schutze also recalled that, in his early days at the Times Herald, he began hearing tales about how Aynesworth was so good at his job because he was getting scoops handed to him. He was on the FBI payroll.
Schutze took his concerns to an editor.
“He said, ‘Hugh doesn’t work for the FBI. The FBI works for Hugh.’ He said, ‘Hugh could sit down with these guys, and they thought, after one drink, he was an FBI agent.'”
Schutze said that whatever else he was — book author, editor, Newsweek bureau chief — “Hugh was just a very, very, very good reporter.”